Subtitled “A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession”. It’s the second book by Julie Powell, author of Julie and Julia. I guess it was fairly clear in that first book that Julie was a bit…quirky. If only that she set a goal for herself of cooking all 524 recipes in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year. For no particular reason, other than that she was restless. And felt unaccomplished. (My take on it.) So it should come as no surprise to anyone that in her second book, Julie has gone way beyond quirky.
She’s had some fame and success now, and money, and it has given her the freedom to move all the way from quirky into crazy.
This book is uncomfortable to read. Quoting from her acknowledgements, she says, “Thanks to my editor, Judy Clain, and her assistant, Nathan Rostron, who edit adroitly and remind me from time to time that there is such a thing as too much information.” Well Julie, maybe they didn’t remind you often enough.
When we meet up again with Julie in the beginning of this book, she is engaged in two more projects. Project 1 is carrying on an affair with a man we know only as D. We get to hear more than we would like about some specifics of their encounters, which become increasingly masochistic on her part without her seeming to realize it. The problem is that while these encounters are described somewhat explicitly, there is no eroticism in them. They are sad.
Project 2 is that she has become an apprentice butcher. Why she would want to do that is inexplicable. But I would say, Julie has power issues. In a perverse sort of way, the more she surrendered to D, the freer she felt, and that feeling of freedom gave her the illusion of power. The butchery was more complicated. You got a window into why Julie might choose this in the first book, when she seemed far too proud of herself, in my opinion, when she was able to stab a lobster to death on her kitchen table. Of course, she was only following orders. That’s how Julia said to do it.
The butchery is described in even more explicit detail, and there is just about as much discomfort engendered there. But it’s a bit hypocritical to be a meat-eater and yet be too squeamish to learn how it gets into those nice wrapped packages in the grocery store. Butchery turns out to be quite an art; yes, it requires some brute force but it also requires skill and endurance. Julie becomes very good at it, and that feeling of accomplishment is all that keeps her sane as her affair and her marriage (yes, she’s still married to Mr. Alleged Soulmate whom we met in the first book) are falling apart.
Then, she developed carpal tunnel in the wrist of her cutting hand, which is excruciatingly painful. And still she won’t quit. That’s when you grasp that what we have here is the same old Julie. It’s just a different form of masochism.
At last the 6-month apprenticeship is over, the affair is over–at least from D’s perspective–and her husband is now having his own affair.
So she takes a trip by herself…a “meat tour”, which begins in Argentina. It’s in Tanzania that the event happens that seems to change Julie (finally!) She’s the victim of an attempted rape in her tent. Her response is to push the man away and tell him she isn’t interested, and shine the light from her cell phone on his face. She could have cried out for help–there are people in other tents within easy reach, but she does not. He leaves, but some hours later, she wakes up to find him on top of her. What is her response? She feels around for her cellphone–that most powerful of weapons. Again she manages to talk him into leaving, but if you’re me, you’re like…
Goddamn it, Julie! If there was ever a time to give up your stupid control issues and your masochism and your self-loathing, this is it! Scream, you idiot! She does not, but he does leave again. In the morning, she at least tells her traveling companions…and justice is done. I’m not sure why this changed her, but it did.
Cooking still plays a role in this book, and there are 15 recipes that tell the tale of her journey through the mysteries of, as she announces in the subtitle, marriage, meat, and obsession. I wouldn’t say it has a happy ending, but it has a satisfying ending. At least, one less awful than I feared.